The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a major challenge to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide – taking up a case from Mississippi that could ban abortions after 15 weeks.
By hearing the case in their next term, which starts in October, the justices – now six conservatives and three liberals - will look at whether to overturn a central part of the landmark ruling - a longstanding goal of religious conservatives.
The Roe decision said states could not ban abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb, which is generally viewed as between 24 and 28 weeks. The Mississippi law would ban abortion much earlier than that.
Roe v. Wade recognized that a constitutional right to personal privacy protects a woman's ability to obtain an abortion. The Supreme Court in 1992 reaffirmed the ruling and prohibited laws that place an "undue burden" on a woman's ability to obtain an abortion.
And last year, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision struck down an abortion law in Louisiana that imposed restrictions on doctors who perform the procedure.
But that was with the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg still on the court, and with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts voting with the court's liberal wing in the ruling.
The court has since shifted from a 5-4 to a 6-3 conservative majority following the confirmation last year of former President Donald Trump's third appointee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, viewed as a religious conservative.
Trump had promised during his 2016 presidential campaign to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.
The Louisiana case also marked the court's first major abortion decision after Trump’s first two appointees, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, took the bench. Both voted in favor of Louisiana's restrictions. If Barrett were to vote on similar lines in the Mississippi case, conservatives could have a majority to curb abortion rights regardless of how Roberts votes.
A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday called the court’s decision to review the Mississippi case “scary” and potentially “devastating.”